What does a sportswear designer do?

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What is a Sportswear Designer?

Sportswear designers create high-quality clothing and accessories specifically for sports and physical activities. Their role combines elements of fashion design, textile science, and an understanding of various sports and safety and performance standards to produce functional, durable, comfortable, and stylish athletic wear.

Through their work, these designers influence sports culture and trends, contributing to the branding and identity of sports teams and fitness brands.

What does a Sportswear Designer do?

Four people running in sportswear.

Duties and Responsibilities
These are the sportswear designer’s primary tasks and responsibilities:

Research and Development

  • Investigating new materials, fabrics, and technologies that can improve the functionality and performance of sportswear
  • Studying market trends and consumer preferences to stay current with fashion and sports industry developments

Design Creation

  • Conceptualizing and sketching new designs, considering both aesthetics and functionality
  • Using design software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, CAD) to create detailed technical drawings and digital prototypes

Material Selection

  • Choosing appropriate fabrics and materials that provide the required durability, flexibility, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties for different sports and activities

Prototyping and Testing

  • Collaborating with pattern makers and sample makers to create prototypes of designs
  • Testing prototypes to ensure they meet performance standards, making necessary adjustments for fit, comfort, and functionality


  • Working closely with other designers, athletes, sports teams, coaches, and other stakeholders to understand their specific needs and preferences
  • Coordinating with marketing and production teams to ensure designs are viable for mass production and align with brand strategies

Trend Analysis

  • Keeping up with the latest fashion and sports trends to create contemporary and competitive designs
  • Analyzing competitor products to identify areas for innovation and improvement

Brand Development

  • Ensuring that designs align with the brand’s identity and appeal to the target market
  • Creating cohesive collections that reinforce the brand’s image and values

Quality Control

  • Overseeing the production process to ensure that the final products maintain the desired quality and design integrity
  • Addressing any issues that arise during manufacturing to ensure high standards are met

Types of Sportswear Designers
Now that we have a sense of the scope of the sportswear designer’s work, let’s look at some different types of these designers, each specializing in various aspects of athletic apparel and accessories. These specializations span types of sport, specific athlete needs, and different brand market focuses:

  • Performance Wear Designers focus on creating apparel specifically designed to enhance athletic performance. They work on sports-specific gear such as running tights, cycling jerseys, and soccer uniforms, emphasizing functionality, durability, and the use of advanced materials and technologies.
  • Activewear Designers design everyday athletic clothing intended for general fitness and casual wear. They create items like yoga pants, gym shorts, sports bras, and athleisure wear and balance fashion and comfort, making clothes that are both stylish and suitable for light physical activities.
  • Outdoor Sportswear Designer specialize in apparel for outdoor sports and activities like hiking, skiing, and camping. They focus on creating durable, weather-resistant clothing such as waterproof jackets, insulated pants, and breathable base layers, prioritizing materials that offer protection against the elements while maintaining comfort and mobility.
  • Footwear Designers design athletic shoes tailored for specific sports or general fitness. They work on running shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, and other sport-specific footwear, incorporating features that enhance performance, such as shock absorption, traction, and stability.
  • Swimwear Designers create swimsuits and accessories for competitive swimming, recreational swimming, and water sports. They focus on materials that provide flexibility, quick-drying properties, and resistance to chlorine and saltwater, designing for both functionality and aesthetic appeal.
  • Technical Sportswear Designers specialize in highly technical and innovative sportswear, often working with cutting-edge materials and design techniques. They develop items like compression garments that support muscles and improve circulation, thermal regulation clothing, and smart textiles that monitor biometric data, aiming to enhance athletic performance through scientific advancements.
  • Team Sportswear Designers design uniforms and gear for team sports such as football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, ensuring that the apparel meets the sport's specific requirements and regulations. They often work closely with teams to incorporate branding elements like logos, colors, and mascots.
  • Sustainable Sportswear Designers focus on creating eco-friendly sportswear using sustainable materials and production methods. They aim to reduce the environmental impact of athletic clothing, emphasizing the use of recycled fabrics, organic materials, and ethical manufacturing practices.

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What is the workplace of a Sportswear Designer like?

Sportswear designers can work for a variety of organizations within the fashion, sports, and retail industries. These are among their most common employers:

Sportswear Brands

  • Major Athletic Brands – Companies like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Puma, and Reebok hire sportswear designers to create cutting-edge athletic apparel and footwear.
  • Specialized Sports Brands – Brands focused on specific sports or activities, such as Asics (running), Columbia (outdoor gear), and Speedo (swimwear), also employ designers to cater to their niche markets.

Fashion and Lifestyle Brands

  • High-end Fashion Labels – Some luxury and fashion brands, like Stella McCartney and Louis Vuitton, have sportswear lines and employ designers to create stylish activewear.
  • Fast Fashion Retailers – Companies like H&M, Zara, and Uniqlo offer activewear collections and hire designers to keep up with the latest trends in affordable sportswear.

Sports Teams and Organizations

  • Professional Sports Teams – Teams in leagues like the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and various soccer leagues hire designers to create custom uniforms and gear.
  • Collegiate and Amateur Teams – Colleges and amateur sports organizations often need designers to develop concepts for team uniforms and merchandise.

Outdoor and Adventure Companies

  • Outdoor Gear Brands – Companies like The North Face, Patagonia, and Arc'teryx employ designers to create durable and functional clothing for outdoor activities.

Footwear Companies

  • Specialized Footwear Brands – Companies that focus primarily on athletic footwear, such as New Balance and Saucony, need designers to develop performance-enhancing shoes.

Retailers and E-commerce Platforms

  • Department Stores and Retail Chains – Stores like Macy’s, Target, and Walmart have their own activewear lines and hire designers to create appealing products.
  • Online Retailers – E-commerce platforms like Amazon and specialized online stores also employ sportswear designers to develop exclusive product lines.

Startups and Small Brands

  • Emerging Sportswear Brands – New and innovative startups focused on niche markets or sustainable practices need designers to help build their brand and product lines.

Freelance and Consultancy

  • Freelance Designers – Many sportswear designers work on a freelance basis, offering their expertise to various brands and clients.
  • Consulting Firms – Design consultancies that specialize in sportswear and activewear hire designers to provide creative and technical services to multiple brands.

Educational Institutions

  • Universities and Design Schools – Some sportswear designers work in academia, teaching fashion and textile design with a focus on sportswear.

Research and Development Labs

  • Material and Technology Companies – Firms that develop new fabrics and technologies for sportswear hire designers to help integrate these innovations into practical products.

The workplace of a sportswear designer can vary widely depending on the employer, the size of the company, and the specific role. Here are some common characteristics of the environments in which these designers may find themselves:

Design Studios

  • Creative Space – Design studios are often open, well-lit, and creatively stimulating environments with ample space for brainstorming, sketching, and developing prototypes.
  • Tools and Equipment – They are equipped with drawing tables, computers with design software (e.g., Adobe Illustrator, CAD programs), sewing machines, fabric samples, and other essential tools for creating designs.

Corporate Offices

  • Collaborative Environment – Corporate offices of major sportswear brands may have designated areas for design teams. These spaces encourage collaboration with other departments such as marketing, product development, and production.
  • Modern Amenities – These workplaces are typically equipped with modern amenities, including conference rooms, breakout areas, and sometimes recreational facilities to foster a creative and healthy work atmosphere.

Manufacturing and Production Facilities

  • Hands-on Work – Designers working closely with manufacturing may spend time in production facilities to oversee the creation of prototypes and final products. This environment allows them to ensure quality control and make real-time adjustments.
  • Material Testing – Facilities might include labs for testing materials and garments to ensure they meet performance and safety standards.

Retail and Brand Offices

  • Trend Analysis – Designers in retail environments often work in spaces where they can analyze market trends and consumer feedback. These offices might have areas dedicated to market research and product testing.
  • Showrooms – Some offices include showrooms where designers can display their latest collections and gather input from stakeholders.

Remote Workspaces

  • Flexibility – Many sportswear designers, especially freelancers and those working for companies with flexible policies, might work remotely from home offices or co-working spaces.
  • Digital Tools – Remote designers rely heavily on digital communication tools, design software, and virtual collaboration platforms to stay connected with their teams and clients.

Academic and Research Institutions

  • Educational Setting – Designers in academic institutions work in classrooms, studios, and laboratories, often focusing on teaching, research, and innovation in sportswear design.
  • Access to Resources – These workplaces provide access to extensive resources, including libraries, research materials, and specialized equipment for textile and garment research.

Outdoor and Field Environments

  • Real-world Testing – Some sportswear designers spend time in outdoor or field settings to test their designs in real-world conditions. This is especially common for designers specializing in outdoor gear and performance wear.

Regardless of the specific environment, the sportswear design workplace culture is innovative and dynamic, with a focus on creativity, experimentation, and continuous improvement. Designers in the sportswear sector typically have access to the latest design and prototyping technologies, including 3D printers, laser cutters, and advanced sewing machines, to bring their ideas to life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sportswear Designers are also known as:
Sports Apparel Designer Active Apparel Designer Fitness Apparel Designer Performance Wear Designer Athletic Wear Designer